“It’s open! See you in Ventura!”
Thirteen daughters, seven mamas, four kayaks, three weeks of concerning, ever-changing weather, two island foxes which kept us up a good portion of the night, a whole lot of hot cocoa and coffee and one, uninhabited island awaited us.
The channel that connected our troop to Santa Cruz Island was passable. The open, tumultuous waterway was indeed navigable, but only by low standards marked in bold, red text. In the early morning of our departure, an email was sent which read, “Please be advised, the water conditions will be rough!”
After an entire week of the captain denying access to the islands because of fierce winds and a swell that promised to be the chief, our scheduled boat out of Ventura was scheduled to depart on time; with a slight caveat, “Please be aware, that though the channel is safe enough to cross we may not be able to anchor because of the winds and swell when we arrive at the island.” Gulp.
We took the chance. We had planned for over eight months for this trip. We had organized food, tents, gear, kayak transport and yes, even crafts to do on the beach with the kids.
When we first set out to journey together, just the mamas a few years back in the high country of Yosemite, we only had ourselves to contend with. At that time, it became a shared vision to learn what we could in the wild, on our own, so someday soon we could have our daughters join us in these outdoor expeditions.
We now had boat passes in hand, backpacks and collapsible wagons stock full, and for some of us, who hadn’t read that boxes were not allowed on the island, me (oops!) we had mesh bags to schlep on the boat. We let out a sigh of relief now that we were officially launched. That sentiment did not last long, however.
When we left the jetty at the Ventura Harbor, I immediately felt uneasy. The water was buckling under the boat forcing the boat to rise and fall ever so uncomfortably and soaking all its passengers on the flanks. “Eyes on the horizon” I kept repeating to myself. Two Dramamine’s were already in my stomach and I was seated alongside mid-twenties day-trippers with plastic cups of wine. One daughter wrapped up in my left arm and one wrapped up in my right, I squeezed them tightly every time I felt another mountainous wave upon us. The rev of the boat as it slowed to endure the waves was enough to send my stomach. So… to the side of the boat, I went.
Have you ever noticed the potency of scents when you become seasick?! Even the smell of gum was overwhelming, but the scent of wine became my worst enemy! First, I was the back-soother of one of my daughters who was now seasick. Then, I found myself at the back of the boat, well, to feed chum to the fish myself. Thankfully, another mama embraced my youngest daughter, because even though our seven-yr old brave soul wasn’t seasick, she was scared and I was no help. My sweet friend held tightly to my youngest until my face began to retain its color. As for those mid-twenties, wine-drinking-recreators well, their faces still looked pale as they hobbled off the boat handing me my pack and mesh bags.
Here in lies lesson one for our mother/daughter adventure:
Do the difficult stuff. It’s makes everything that follows that much sweeter.
The boat ride out was so challenging, on many levels for most of our crew, that when we arrived at our destination, it was almost surreal. Every bit of crystal clear water, every island flower in bloom, every orange Garibaldi that dashed under the pier, every green, rolling hill that danced with mystical, yet noisy, island foxes, EVERYTHING was so much more appreciated!
In a time in history where accommodations and ease go with the very thread that motivates our businesses and industries, it is difficult for an individual to remember that hard work or enduring something difficult is actually OK and in fact, it’s incredibly critical that we allow ourselves and our children to rise to the occasion in challenging times.
The comedian, Jim Gaffigan jokes in one of his comedic skits that camping just seems cruel if you are a parent. Parents are already under-rested and awoken often at night, he states, “Why would parents subject themselves to sleeping on the ground?” Part of me identifies with this for sure! Sleeping mats are no treat and in the middle of the night on our first night, while I shuffled around trying to get comfortable, I heard vicious noises outside our tent. I knew most the other campers were awakened as well but no one left their tent; too terrified to see what animals were in the midst of a brawl. You know the catchy song, “What Does the Fox Say?” Well, I do now. And it is not lovely. Not at all.
Lesson two became apparent right away.
Anticipation is a lost art.
Amazon, Kindle, You-Tube, etc., all are accessible tools that lend us what we want when we want it. But when you are immersed in nature and only with the things that you need (OK fine, we did have bacon too), you rise with the sun and rest with the moon. You anticipate what the next day brings not with the rigidity of expectation, but instead with whole-hearted openness. Because this is what mama earth teaches so intuitively if we listen.
Once on the island, we spent our time cooking together, adventuring through sea caves in one of the world’s most pristine ocean waters, crafting on the beach, jumping off the pier, hiking, and experiencing sunsets that felt like we were inside a perfectly dyed Easter egg.
Lesson three became a little more challenging. When it was just mamas and our own adult-needs, it was easier. This round, however, was different right from the start…
“Are we ready for lunch? Let’s take a majority vote.”
“Does everyone feel included?”
“Are all the kids helping?”
“Is every daughter accounted for?”
More people, especially young people, meant more checking in and more logistics. Finding our rhythm together did not take long and the freedom to roam and wander quickly became a desire for all of us. So another natural lesson emerged.
Boundary setting is important for us all.
On our first evening hike, two of our steadfast, photo opportunistic daughters escaped our view. On an island cliff with the wind holding us up like the characters in the Titanic, our mama bear instincts were in high alert. So, one of our mama friends stepped up to seek them out. The rest of us remaining to keep an eye on our other daughters as they inched closer to the edge of the cliff which was all too tempting for all of us, because really, where in the world do you get views like that?! When our dear friend returned with two teens behind her, we mothers began our lecture. “You need to stay with the group. You need to respect all who are on this trip together, not just your own needs/wants. etc. etc. etc…” Ultimately, though at first these points were met with push-back, boundaries are something we all yearn for.
Mother nature presents this to us with ease… sea caves are not to be entered if water is bouncing off the side walls, cliff edges are not to be approached as the land beneath your feet is ever-moving and the water, the water is not to be reckoned with when its depth and movement alone can change on a dime.
As we moved through the weekend as a pack of twenty, we worked together to set up camp, clean dishes, create and supervise games, take care of the kids and each other and communicate to create the best experience for everyone. Another lesson learned….
Tribes are primal to us all.
We all want to connect. We want to belong. We want to feel part of something that protects us, honors us and allows us to be our unique selves. When we are out in the wild, it is natural for us to bond together and share the God-gifted talents we each have so that everyone in the group feels equally apart. Mama earth gifts us this.
When an ore was lost, (because all of us were having so much fun we forgot to drag the kayaks up the beach as the tide came), three of us stayed to haul the boats to a safer place, while four of the other mamas took care of all the girls prepping dinner and snacks. The next day, the ore was found floating in the middle of a luscious kelp garden. We would have never seen it if we hadn’t hiked to the very highest point of the island to admire it’s breathtaking, 360-degree views. The island blessed us with an important reminder.
Perspective is everything.
Let’s face it, parenting is hard work. We can easily lose ourselves to the many needs of our children. We can get pulled in all directions, only to find ourselves feeling isolated and lonely. We can become, sadly, our own island. Getting around ourselves to see something in a different way, breathes possibilities. Viewing a challenge or a loss from a different angle gives us more opportunity to see a resolution. Rising above what seems too rough, too challenging or too impassable, only allows us to uncover more of our own strengths.
When we all departed our lovingly entitled “Shangri-La” campsite in Yosemite Valley a few years ago, I wrote about our experience in a post I entitled, Mountain High.
“Maybe, in our fast-paced world, we have to be more purposeful of slowing down and getting off the grid. Maybe, we have to remember that keeping one another safe and cared for is community work. Maybe, we have to let go of all connections to all sources of media, and just find the right connection within ourselves and the people who surround us. Maybe, we need reminders of just how precious our land and environment is, and preserving it can be a daily effort as we go on with our day-to-day lives. Maybe, we have work to do, to show our daughters that women have always encircled one another with care and support, and their truest friends in life will do the same for them. Maybe, we have to spend time away from everything we know, to find the potential within ourselves we never knew existed. Maybe, just maybe, that Mountain High can be found within our very homes.” CatchlightSB Post- “Mountain High” 10/2017
This seems even more critical now. Between the seven mamas, we have four teens among us, girls who are encircled with school-wide expectations of IPad projects and technological advances that we can hardly pronounce. We have elementary-age girls who are in competitive sports, with schedules that can limit their outdoor adventuring. We have two little girls, who still believe in fairies and the importance of making fox dens out of the goods mama earth provides. Here we were, with daughters from ages 6-13 who simply showed up ready for what was to come.
Upon leaving the island, the majority of the girls shared they wish they could have stayed longer… ahhhh…. parent high, which ironically feels a lot like a mountain high! We had three, new Junior Rangers on our hands who were proudly donning their well-earned badges. What else could we have asked for?! The ultimate campers’ treat was a boat ride back that felt like a mid-afternoon lake cruise on the Ozarks. It was so peaceful in fact, that my remaining mesh bag, stock full of cup-o-noodles and cookies, was swiftly emptied and people were going to the back of the boat to enjoy watching pods of dolphins.
I presume the last lesson learned was the importance of doing so much more of this. Without schedules to keep, or texts or email communications to attend to, we had each other, food to share, adventures to partake in and nature to embrace us all. Now, more than ever, Mama Earth is calling us to SEE her. Let’s simply start here: enjoy the diversity, explore the wild, adventure in open spaces and see what awaits.
The concept of the Hero’s Call encompasses the idea that someone hears the call to adventure, they go and answer the call. When they return home, they share their experiences. The Hero’s Call has been placed in our daughters’ hands now. They too, feel dedicated to the precious natural resources that belong to us, that are calling for our attention to be preserved and that needs us all to speak up for them. Protecting mama earth isn’t only a scientist or inventor’s job, it belongs to us all and it starts with appreciating what this grandeur earth has to offer.